Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its characters and 'verse are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Warner Bros, etc. I make no money from writing these stories.

The Bright Lights

Dawn worried her lip, brown eyes carefully trained on the door as the ringing tone sounded in her ear, slow and monotonous and drawn out.



"Come on, come on, come on, you're in. I know you're in, where else would you – Hello?" She could hear her pulse thud hot in her ears over the muffled hiss and crunch that came along the phone line. "Hello?"

"Yes, what?" came the sharp reply, and Dawn let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding.

"It's me, it's Dawn." She grinned with relief and the fact she was really getting away with this. But then she took a deep breath. She couldn't sound too excited, too much like the kid he used to protect. She wanted to be a woman, for him to know she was an adult now. That was important.

"Niblet? Bloody hell!" There was more rustling, a little banging.

"Did I wake you?"

He chuckled. "Doesn't matter. Jeeze, pet, it's been…"

"A few years, yeah. Listen, I can't speak for too long. I've got a favour to ask." She was watching the door again. She could hear Andrew in the other room, rambling incessantly to buy her more time.

"Oh right, 'course. Something going down?" The sleep was cleared from his voice now and he was all business.

"Um, no. Look, I've been accepted to UCLA and I want to go. Buffy won't let me unless I have somewhere safe to live." She scowled at her sister's shadow, cast on the doorway.

"Right. You want Angel's number? He's got good connections round abouts."

"Heh, not so much. I was wondering if you had a spare room or a sofa or anything?" She was rushing, too worried that Buffy would catch her to bother with tact.

"Oh, right…"

She sighed, exasperated. "I'm sorry this is short notice, but if you could just put me up for a couple of weeks, just until I can find something else."

"Um, yeah, well, OK. I guess there'd be room. I mean, I'm not home much, anyway."

"Great, thanks Spike. I'll be seeing you in September."

She was sure he tried to say something more, but she quickly put down the receiver, picking up the coffee cups and trotting into the living room. Buffy sat on the cream suede sofa, the sun setting over Rome through the window behind her. Her eyes were glazed. Entering the room, she passed Andrew who had been carefully blocking the doorway. He was wearing a pair of trendy ripped, bleached jeans and a stylish shirt that showed off the torso he had been trying hard to improve. Italy and its attendant vanities had done wonders for them all.

Some things clearly never changed, though, as Andrew continued without pause on his sci-fi rant. Buffy smiled with relief when she saw Dawn.

"So, to conclude, although now very dated to the eighties, and employing several cinematographic techniques that are now obsolete within the science fiction genre, Next Generation is clearly the superior of all the Star Trek series."

"Does this have any relevance to anything?" Dawn asked, sharing a 'holy geek-ness' smile with Buffy.

"We started with the Buffybot and it kind of snowballed," Buffy said, sipping her coffee. Her eyes flashed to the large clock on the wall. "This is gonna have to be to-go, though. I'm on duty tonight with a couple of the newbies."

Andrew produced a Scooby-Doo thermos flask. "Way ahead of you, Buffy."

"Thank you," she replied grudgingly.

"Better hurry off. Bright eyed bushy tailed slayers are wanting to have their … you know. Death and stuff." Dawn smiled brightly, plucking Buffy's coat from the back of the front door.

"OK, I'm going. What's the big rush?" Buffy asked, taking her jacket.

"Just eager to study."

"She's an eager beaver," Andrew chimed in, sharing a look with Dawn over Buffy's head.

The petite blonde slayer sighed in resignation. "Something tells me I'm not going to like whatever you're plotting."

"Plot? Us?" Andrew laughed nervously. "Silly little blonde slayer. Go stab stuff."

The pair shut the apartment door after Buffy, leaning back against it and sighing in relief. Andrew looked to the side at Dawn, now tall enough in heeled boots to stand taller than him. "Holy guacamole, Dawn, I thought you were going to be quicker than that."

She shook her head, long straight hair rippling with the movement. "She bought it, though, right? She didn't seem suspicious."

Andrew flopped into an armchair, slouching forwards. "I think she lost me somewhere around Janeway's hair. Not sure if she overheard you or not, but I did my best."

"No, she would have said something. You're a gem, Andrew. Thank you!"

"I still don't understand," he said, idly fiddling with his hair. "You could just tell her. You're eighteen, she can't do anything."

"She'd find a way to stop me going. She'd tell Spike not to help me or something. I just want to do this on my own."

"But what if Spike said no?"

Dawn shook her head, touching and turning the framed pictures of Scoobies past and present on the side table. Spike was absent from every one of them. She had never noticed that before. "He wouldn't do that. I don't know, he just wouldn't."

"Wow. That's cool, to have that kind of a friend." Andrew's eyes were wistful.

"Yeah. It is."

Spike was not actively expecting Dawn. How could he? He had no idea when she was arriving. He had cleaned, or at least tidied, but not for her. There was always the chance of meeting a bird, bringing her home. Didn't want the place to be a tip. Didn't make a good impression with the female types. The Niblet could make what she pleased of the place – dumping herself on him without a by your leave, without a thank you, not even a 'how you been?' Two and a half long years, too many long battles to count later, and she thought she was ready to fly the nest, to make her own way back to the mother country. Yeah, right. So long as big brother Spike was there to hold her hand.

All the Slayer's doing, of course. Not maternal, just bloody controlling – always with the rules and the conditions, always under her bloody terms. Dawn might be out of sight, but Buffy would make damn sure she still lived the straight-laced, safe, little sister existence. Apparently Spike figured in on that plan. Bloody typical.

Cool blue eyes stared at the mirror, reflecting an empty room where his image should be. He ran his fingers through his damp locks, long enough now to be curling. Must look a mess. A sexy mess? Maybe. He picked up his toothbrush and ran it under the tap, squeezing a neat line of toothpaste onto it before starting to scrub.

A bang on the door in the next room. He rolled his eyes at his invisible reflection. Bloody. Typical.

Spike quickly spat into the sink, wiping his mouth on his forearm, and strolled quickly into the living room, dragging on his shirt as he went. He yanked open the dull, white painted door.

She was tall now, at least a head over Buffy. Her hair was still long and brown and straight, like always, but feathered at the front to frame her face, like one of those girls in a glamour magazine. Her smile was still sweet, bright, innocent, but somehow matured. And her body. Spike made an active effort to implant a censor on her body. That was something he wouldn't be commenting on. It was just too strange.

"Spike!" She leapt forward and flung her arms around his neck, instantly negating the censor as his hands settled naturally above the subtle curve of her hips. There were curves. It couldn't be ignored.

"Hey, Bit. Long time, no see."

She pulled back, still smiling, and rolled her eyes. "I know, I know, I suck. But you never called either."

"Flew to see you, and you were a no show."

She stepped back out into the hallway, picking up her surprisingly small amount of luggage. "No, you flew to Rome to see Buffy."

Spike took the larger of her two bags and motioned her into the living room. "Well, alright, you've got me there."

He was impressed at the updated dress sense. Her jeans were tight – a little too tight for his comfort, let alone hers – and fashionably ripped and frayed. On top she wore a plain red vest top over a white buttoned shirt. The sleeves were rolled up, casual like, and the tales hung out at the bottom. "You look good."

"Oh. Thank you. Not so bad yourself." She self-consciously tucked her hair behind one ear, looking at him askance as she bent to fiddle with her backpack. "Is there a spare room or am I on the couch?"

"It's a pull out doo-hickey. I wasn't sure when you'd be here, or I would have made it up."

"No worries. There's no rush. I'm kind of hyper after sitting down for so long." The brunette wandered around the kitchenette, opening cupboards and the fridge, inspecting pictures and opening jars to smell their contents. "Any plans for tonight?"

Spike shrugged, buttoning his shirt. "Same old. Patrol a couple of clubs, maybe bug Peaches for a while. He does so love it when I invade his personal space."

"I'll just bet he does," Dawn grinned impishly over her shoulder. Spike stopped, blinked and cocked his head to one side in one smooth, surprised movement. "Mind if I tag along?"

"Sure, why not."

Sighing, head fuzzy and cold pig's blood thrumming in his ears, Spike ripped off a length of toilet paper to wipe his hand clean. Taking the Niblet dancing had been a mistake. Just a quick sweep, a hunt for vampires on the prowl. That had been the plan. But Angel's boys had been busy, and most of the local talent had gone to ground. Besides, Dawn being new to the town, it seemed only right to show her the bright lights of the city.

The teeny-bopper was gone – long live the bump-and-grinding, adult dressing, pouting and smiling and eyelash batting woman. And so say all our cocks.

Still, it was awkward. In William's day you just didn't think that way over the love of your unlife's kid sister. It just wasn't polite. Besides, in this particular case, if the Slayer found out it could result in some fairly speedy decapitation. No, the new and improved Niblet belonged firmly in the category of look-don't-touch. Any touching would have to be self-inflicted.

He snorted, pulling his blanket up over his head to shut out the light. "No change there, then."